Many employers sponsor H1-B holders to have them fill temporary posts, not to become full-time residents of the U.S., according to a study released last week by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington D.C. -based nonprofit think tank.
The different ways companies use H-1B visas can be stark, according to the study, which was authored by Ron Hira , an associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology and longtime critic of the H-1B visa program. ( Download a PDF of study here .)
For example, large offshore, India-based vendors mostly seek permanent residency for just a small percentage of their workers, while some U.S. firms, such as Microsoft and Qualcomm, are more likely to begin the green card process for employees. "Rather than attracting the 'best and brightest' for permanent immigration, as many have claimed, the programs have increasingly been used for temporary labor mobility to transfer work overseas and to take advantage of cheaper guest-worker labor," wrote Hira.
The study was called misleading by a spokesman for Compete America, a coalition of vendors, universities and other sponsors of H-1B visa holders. Spokesman Eric Thomas in particular questioned the use of L-1 visa data in the study. The L-1 visa is used by multinational companies for intra-company transfers. "That's how the system was designed, and that's how it's working. Lumping different visa categories into one bucket is a clear attempt to skew the data," he said.
The study examines company-by company data and then separates it into H-1B and L-1 visa categories. An examination of the study finds that even if L-1 visa data is excluded, the pattern of visa use appears to remain the same.
For instance, Infosys Technologies Ltd. was top H-1B user in 2008 with 4,559 approved visas, but in the same year, the company applied for permanent residency for 237 workers.
The paper benchmarks visa data with what it terms an "immigration yield," or the ratio of permanent residency applications filed to H-1B petitions. In the case of Infosys, that ratio is 5 percent. The low percentage pattern is similar in L-1 visa usage.
Because H-1B workers can work in the U.S. for six years, the applications for permanent residency can be from any of those years.
An exception among the large offshore vendors in seeking permanent residency for employees is Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., a U.S. based company with major overseas operations.
In 2008 Cognizant was approved for 467 H-1B visas and sought permanent residency for 332 that year, for a ratio of 71 percent. Cognizant received 1,839 L-1 visas, the second largest in 2008 after Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., which received 1,998 L-1 visas.
Cognizant applied for permanent residency for 342 of its L-1 workers. Tata didn't apply for permanent residency for any of its L-1 workers or H-1B workers in 2008.